Many stabilization systems have multiple modes. Canon IS lenses offer two modes. Mode 1 counters both vertical and horizontal camera shake. Mode 2 detects intentional panning and just compensates for vertical shake when you’re panning horizontally or for horizontal shake when you’re panning vertically.
Some Nikon VR lenses offer Active and Normal modes. Active is best used when you’re shooting from a moving car or boat; Normal is best used when you shooting from a stationary platform. If you’re shooting wildlife in motion handheld, try it with and without stabilization and see which works best for you with your gear.
Nikon guru Thom Hogan (www.bythom.com/nikon-vr.htm) makes a good case for switching stabilization off at shutter speeds above 1/500 sec., in part because of the sampling frequency of the stabilizing system. Try it with your gear to see if you get better results at higher shutter speeds with stabilization switched on or off.
We especially recommend using stabilization when photographing stationary subjects handheld at shutter speeds below 1⁄500 sec., regardless of lens focal length. But again, try it in different situations with your gear to see what works best for you.
The Handholding Rule Of Thumb
How slow a shutter speed can you use and still get a sharp handheld photograph? Well, that depends on a number of things, including your skill in handholding your camera, the shutter speed and focal length in use, and how large a print you intend to make. As a general rule, use a shutter speed at least equal to the reciprocal of the lens focal length. For example, if handholding a 200mm lens, shoot at a shutter speed of 1/200 sec. or shorter.
If you’re using a DSLR with a smaller-than-full-frame sensor, base your shutter speed on the lens’ effective focal length with that camera. For example, on an APS-C camera (1.5x focal-length factor), your 200mm lens frames like a 300mm lens on a 35mm SLR, so you should use a shutter speed of 1⁄300 sec. or shorter when handholding a 200mm lens on that camera. On a Four Thirds System camera, a 200mm lens is equivalent to a 400mm lens on a 35mm SLR, so you’d use a shutter speed of at least 1⁄400 sec. when handholding a 200mm lens.
Remember, though, that this is a guide, not an ironclad law. Some photographers can handhold a camera more steadily than others, and a given photographer may be steadier one day than another.
Early stabilization systems were good for about two shutter speeds: If you could get sharp shots handholding a given focal length at 1⁄200 sec. without stabilization, you could get equivalent results handholding at 1⁄50 sec. with stabilization. Today’s newest systems are more effective, allowing for three to four shutter speeds: You could successfully handhold that 200mm lens at speeds down to 1⁄25 sec. or even 1⁄15 sec. It’s a very good idea to do a test with your gear to see how slow a shutter speed you can handhold and still get results that work for you, both with and without stabilization.